Cuba, like every other country on the planet, is grappling with the impact of COVID-19. This small island of 11 million inhabitants has created five vaccine candidates and sent its medical workers through the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade to treat people around the world. Meanwhile, the United States is toughening a cruel and illegal blockade of the island, a medieval siege that has been in place for six decades. In April 2020, seven United Nations special rapporteurs drafted a letter to the United States government about the blockade. “In a pandemic emergency,” they wrote, “the unwillingness of the US government to suspend sanctions may lead to a higher risk of such suffering in Cuba and other countries targeted by its sanctions.” The special rapporteurs noted the “risks to the right to life, health and other essential rights of the most vulnerable groups of the Cuban population”.

By Manolo De Los Santos and Vijay Prashad

On July 12, 2021, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel told a press conference that Cuba faces severe shortages of food and medicine. “What is the origin of all these problems? He asked. The answer, he said, “is the blockade.” If the blockade imposed by the United States ended, many of the great challenges facing Cuba would disappear. Of course, there are other challenges, such as the collapse of the crucial tourism sector due to the pandemic. The two problems – the pandemic and the blockade – have increased the challenges for the Cuban people. The pandemic is a problem that people all over the world are now facing; the blockade imposed by the United States is a problem unique to Cuba (as well as to some 30 other countries hit by unilateral American sanctions).


On July 11, residents of several regions of Cuba, such as San Antonio de los Baños, took to the streets to protest against the social crisis. Frustration over the lack of merchandise in stores and an increase in COVID-19 infections appeared to be driving the protests. President Díaz-Canel said of the people that most of them are “dissatisfied”, but their dissatisfaction is fueled by “confusion, misunderstandings, lack of information and the desire to express a particular situation”.

On the morning of July 12, US President Joe Biden hastily issued a statement that reeked of hypocrisy. “We are on the side of the Cuban people”, Biden mentionned, “and their bugle calls for freedom.” If the US government genuinely cared about the Cuban people, then the Biden administration would at the very least withdraw the 243 unilateral coercive measures implemented by Donald Trump’s presidency before he left office in January 2021; Biden, unlike his own campaign promises– did not start the process to overturn Trump’s position designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism”. On March 9, 2021, Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “Policy change in Cuba is not currently one of President Biden’s top priorities. On the contrary, Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy to overthrow the Cuban government remains intact.

The United States has tried for six decades to overthrow the Cuban government, including using assassinations and invasions as a policy. In recent years, the US government has increased its financial support for people inside Cuba and in the Cuban emigrant community in Miami, Florida; part of this money comes directly from National Foundation for Democracy and of YOU SAID. Their mandate is to accelerate any discontent inside Cuba into a political challenge to the Cuban Revolution.

On June 23, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said Trump’s measures “remain well in place.” They shape “the conduct of the current US administration precisely during the months in which Cuba experienced the highest infection rates, the highest death toll, and the highest economic cost associated with the COVID pandemic -” 19 ”.

Pandemic costs

On July 12, Alejandro Gil Fernández, Cuban Minister of Economy and Planning, told the press about the pandemic’s expenses. In 2020, he said, the government spent $ 102 million on reagents, medical equipment, protective gear and other materials; in the first half of 2021, the government spent $ 82 million on such materials. This is money Cuba did not plan to spend – money it does not have due to the collapse of the tourism sector.

“We have not spared resources to deal with COVID-19,” Fernández said. People with COVID-19 are hospitalized, where their treatment costs the country $ 180 a day; if the patient requires intensive care, the cost per day is $ 550. “No one is charged a dime for their treatment,” Fernández said.

The socialist government of Cuba assumes responsibility for medical care and social insurance. Despite the serious economic problems, the government guarantees wages, buys medicines and distributes food as well as electricity and running water. This is why the government added $ 2.4 billion to its already considerable debt overhang. In June, Cuban Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas Ruíz meet with the French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire to discuss the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. France, which manages Cuba’s debt to public Paris Club creditors, has led the effort to improve Havana’s debt service demands.

Blockade costs

On June 23, 184 countries at the United Nations General Assembly vote end the blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba. During the discussion on the vote, Cuban Foreign Minister Rodríguez reported that between April 2019 and December 2020, the government lost $ 9.1 billion due to the blockade ($ 436 million per month). “At current prices,” he said, “the damage accumulated over six decades is over $ 147.8 billion, and against the price of gold it is over $ 1. , $ 3 trillion.

If the blockade were lifted, Cuba would be able to solve its major financial problems and use the resources necessary to move away from its dependence on tourism. “We are on the side of the Cuban people,” says Biden; in Havana, the phrase is heard differently, as it sounds like Biden is saying, “We support the Cuban people.”

Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz said those who took to the streets on July 11 “called for foreign intervention and said that the [Cuban] The revolution was falling. They will never take advantage of this hope, ”he said. In response to these anti-government protests, the streets of Cuba filled with tens of thousands of people carrying Cuban flags and the flags of the July 26 Movement of the Cuban Revolution. Cruz said: “The people have responded and defended the revolution.”

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Manolo from Los Santos is a researcher and political activist. For 10 years, he worked in organizing solidarity and education programs to challenge the US regime of illegal sanctions and blockades. Based in Cuba for many years, Manolo has worked to create international networks of popular movements and organizations. In 2018, he became the founding director of the Popular Forum in New York, a movement incubator for working class communities to build unity across historic dividing lines at home and abroad. He also collaborates as a researcher with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and is a Globetrotter / Peoples Dispatch member.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is editor and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the editor-in-chief of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a non-resident principal investigator at Chongyang Financial Studies Institute, Renmin University of China. He has written over 20 books, including The darkest nations and The poorest nations. His latest book is Washington Balls, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.